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Army Ants And Me

When we think about predators, we usually think of those fearsome animals like lions and tigers. It may a surprise to learn that one of the most powerful predator is actually some lowly ants. In the forest of Central America there are a family of ants known as army ants. With a strong armor, shearing jaws and more importantly a great number of them, army ants is able to dominate its competitors. Each ant colony consist of a queen and about half a million of worker and soldier ants. They go out to raid in huge swarm. Large insects and invertebrates are no rival to them. Despite their size is much larger than any individual ant, they shear number of ants overwhelmed them. Inevitably any creatures in their path are going to fall prey to the ants.

Photo by Mark Moffett
Army Ants

I was watching a documentary on National Geographics about army ants. The most terrifying scene is to see them raid a wasp nest. A few wasp foolishly fight the ants in vain. Other have no choice but to evacuate the nest. The ants carry out the prize of the raid, which is the wasps' eggs. Having spend so much of their life to guard and nurture their offspring, the wasps watch helplessly as the ants steal them as their food.

This leads me thinking how does human rank against army ants? Humans are intelligent. The ants are dumb. We have only few offspring. But we invest a lot to nurture each one of them. The ants just produce lots and lots of interchangeable workers. You can stomp your foot and kill a dozen. This will do little harm to the colony because they will be replaced by countless others. In comparison human are more vulnerable. The is always a chance for some of us to fallen to diseases or to violence and die prematurely. When this happens, it will be a big loss that is hard to replace. Both species are very successful. Yet is one of these strategy is better from an evolutionary stand point?

Scanning electron microscope image of normal circulating human blood
scanning electron microscope image of normal circulating human blood

A more interesting view point is that we human can actually be a lot like army ants. Instead of looking at us as an individual, lets use a microscope to look inside. In our blood stream there are great number of white blood cells. They are part of our immune system that defend us against infectious diseases. When any invading microbes are detected, our immune system produce a great number of antibody to neutralize them. These microorganism has no intelligence to speak of. They just fight as they suppose to be and they die in great number. In a sense, our immune system work more like army ants. And we own our survival to the service of our immune system.

Studying the nature always fascinates me.

2011.09.10 [] - comments



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